There’s yet another stage in the evolution of online communication that’s coalescing. Have you noticed it? It’s the emergence of curation tools. Offered free of charge by web developers who share your passion for capturing the fleeting bits of beauty, humour, wisdom and weirdness that you ingest through the screen every day. How did we get here? Why now? Let’s take it from the beginning.
The Path From “Hello, World” to the iPhone
It all began with hand-crafted websites by those who knew a little HTML and a friend who could show them how to get a domain name. Typical content: “Hello, world. Welcome to my zany corner of the internet! Stop back often!” Little content and a maybe a couple of pictures present if the author was lucky enough to own a flatbed scanner (or have access to one at work).
Next, blogging software like Moveable Type makes it easier to actually deliver on all of those frequent updates so often promised on the hand-crafted site that so rarely delivered. Personal websites begin to infringe on the territory previously exclusive to diaries. Content largely text-based. Thoughts expressed mostly cohesive. Probably because crafting a post requires sitting down at a home computer, booting up and establishing a dial-up connection. Spontaneity impossible.
Then, cable modems appear, displacing dial-up connections. The end of ever shutting the home computer off. Spontaneous posting becomes practical. Around the same time, digital photography becomes widespread. Photography changed forever as everyone is freed from considerations of cost when deciding if an image is film-worthy. Quotidian aspects of everyday life visually captured as never before. (Number of dog and cat photos approaches a number of stars in the Observable Universe.)
Finally, the iPhone. Constant connectivity. The explosion of apps which permit direct posting to the internet. Since the phone is always close at hand (along with a built-in camera), any thought, any image, any experience is instantly shareable with any other person on the planet with internet access. Previously text-based blogs begin to whither in favour of the photo-blog. Posted photos may or may not have an explanatory caption.
The Content Explosion
Websites filled with nothing but curated imagery. Dazzling visual catalogues so entertaining to the brain with their endless variety, colour and subject matter that they compete with television in terms of the ability to daze and enthral. But no, it’s more compelling than television; the viewer can browse images sorted into topics with extreme specificity. Want to see an endless stream of wordless photos relating to vintage aeroplanes? 1950s advertisements? Hairstyles? Scotland? Word art? Fire hydrants? Objects which are yellow? Those are all available via social media sites like Tumblr, Posterous, Piccsy or a host of others. You have your choice of single-theme photo streams or streams which randomly capture the moments of an individual’s life. What was a dream just a few years ago, having storage capacity so cheap that one could capture every moment of life, every sound, every image, every word, is now possible! Those moments are still fragmentary, but it might not be long before we start capturing all of it and editing out the boring stuff in the post-production of our own electronic autobiographies.
Enter Content Curation
With this explosion of imagery has come the desire to capture everything online that intrigues. That image that you see on someone’s blog or on Instagram or in a magazine article or anywhere. We want to save it for later, come back to it for inspiration, share it with a friend, use it to define who we are online. “Curation,” a word previously used only by librarians or other information scientists has now become popular. The issue now is not lowering the barrier to sharing content online but organizing it into bins that make some kind of sense. Sites like Gimme Bar fill the need, allowing the capture of any image, text excerpt or video, assigned to arbitrary bins of the user’s choosing.
There’s now so much to see, so much to capture that we can’t keep up with reading it or commenting on it. We generate so much of our own content in photos and videos that it’s easier to represent who we are online by the content that we catalogue, whether it’s our own content or that which we harvested elsewhere online. Want to know what I think is important, who I think I am? Just check out my stream of curated content. See if you can make sense of the mosaic of thoughts made permanent there. I scarcely have time to write it out.